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Carolina Climate Control Blog

Which HVAC System Is Best For Lowcountry Homes: Variable Speed HVAC or Staged HVAC?

Do you want to save money on your next HVAC installation? For many households, selecting the right type of HVAC unit and running it correctly can potentially save a hefty amount on their energy bills. Below we take a look at variable speed HVAC and staged HVAC operation.


Each type has its own strengths & weaknesses, so you can learn more below about what the difference between a variable and a staged HVAC system operation is, and which might be the best option for your Lowcountry home.



What is a Staged HVAC Operation?


In terms of HVAC, staged systems are those that only kick in when the temperature and/or humidity reaches a certain level. The system can be adjusted so that it comes on just before the temperature begins to become uncomfortable.


Once the system is triggered, the cooling units will work flat out to bring the temperature down to a predetermined level. The advantages of staged HVAC may be that the unit is cheaper to purchase than a comparable variable system and that costs can be kept low by setting the temperature as high as bearable before the cooling system is triggered.


The disadvantages of staged HVAC relate to both comfort and efficiency. If you decide to keep the HVAC off until absolutely necessary (so set the point at which the cooling kicks in fairly high), your home may be verging on uncomfortable before cooling starts.


HVAC efficiency can be compromised by the high level of energy needed to bring the temperature down from the trigger point to an acceptable level. The unit will be working at maximum capacity when it’s in operation.


Not only can this result in high energy bills, but the strain on the system may also cause accelerated wear and tear. This may mean more repairs and a higher chance of under-performance or even complete failure.


Variable Speed Graph from Trane Technologies

What Is Variable Speed HVAC Operation?


A variable HVAC system is one that operates continuously and makes adjustments as soon as the temperature starts to rise even slightly above the required level. This means that the temperature remains constant at all times, as the HVAC is continuously operating (at a very low level).


The benefits of variable HVAC are several: in the first instance, the HVAC cost when it comes to your energy bill is usually much lower than when a staged system is used.


Not only is this usually a low-cost HVAC option, but it’s also likely to last longer than a staged option – the unit rarely needs to operate at maximum capacity to keep a comfortable temperature in your home.


This means that wear on the system is kept to an absolute minimum. With the correct servicing and maintenance, the best variable speed HVAC options will carry on giving a great performance for many years.


An efficient HVAC variable speed option also tends to result in a more comfortable temperature in your home. Rather than having to wait for a peak temperature to be reached before your A/C kicks in (which is what happens with even the best staged HVAC product), a variable speed system ensures a comfortable temperature at all times.



The Best HVAC System Will Have the Highest SEER


A good way to decide on the type of HVAC operating system that’s going to be best for your home is to find out what the SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) is for the unit you’re considering.


The SEER of a unit is calculated by dividing the amount of cooling the unit provides over the season it’s in use (the summer) by the amount of electricity it uses during this time. The higher the SEER, the more efficient the HVAC variable speed or staged unit is.


In most circumstances, a variable speed HVAC system will have a significantly higher SEER than even an efficient staged HVAC.


Note that starting in 2023 all A/C units installed across the country will need to meet minimum energy efficiency and performance standards.


This will ensure that your unit will operate to basic levels of efficiency but still means that some units (particularly variable speed units) will be noticeably more efficient than others.



Ask An HVAC Professional


When it comes to deciding on the type of HVAC system that’s going to be right for your property, there are numerous variables to consider. In addition to deciding on whether to opt for a staged or variable speed system, homeowners also need to consider:


  • The size of the property
  • How often the A/C is going to be used
  • What sort of duration the A/C must run for
  • How many rooms in the property must be heated/cooled
  • Any air quality issues
  • Whether you already have A/C ductwork in place
  • Budget
  • Any other issues that are unique to your property


We are able to offer an in-depth, customized assessment of your property, using the information we gather to create a free, personalized estimate into the type of HVAC that’s going to be best for your requirements.



Variable Speed HVAC is Ideal for Charleston Properties


In the humid, warm Charleston climate, our usual recommendation would be to opt for a variable-speed HVAC system.


In our experience, this type of HVAC system offers a very high level of energy efficiency, as well as exceptional performance. If you want a system that keeps energy bills as low as possible, at the same time as providing years of high-grade, reliable performance, a variable speed system is probably the best one to opt for.


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